Byline: Melanie Kletter

The urbanwear market is percolating with activity, much of it aimed at women. A host of urban men’s wear labels have crossed over into the women’s market, including Fubu, Mecca, Enyce, Maurice Malone and Ecko Unlimited. Most recently, Phat Farm launched women’s apparel under the label Baby Phat.
Now, many brands are upping their marketing activities through a focus on their women’s lines in advertising, and are featuring hot celebrities such as Mary J. Blige and L’il Kim to better promote their brands.
There is also a lot of rethinking of looks going on. Sexy and tight is emerging as the style of choice in this market, and fabrications are becoming more important, as designers refine and upgrade their women’s lines.
Urbanwear vendors are also looking to expand their distribution beyond core urban specialty shops, into department stores and other large chains.
Here, a roundup of some of the latest happenings in the market:
KK2 APPEAL: Karl Kani has become a big fan of women’s apparel.
Already a leading young men’s urbanwear label, Kani has been beefing up its women’s offerings under the KK2 label and now is going after this market with a vengeance.
The company’s newest women’s lines, unveiled at the recent Magic Show in Las Vegas, include more denim and more upscale looks, as well as real fur items, which will sell for significantly higher than the existing line, Karl Kani told WWD.
The fur looks include vests and furs in bright colors such as fuchsia. Currently, the line sells for around $70 to $200 and is distributed to both specialty stores and department stores such as Macy’s East and West and Belk Stores, where Kani is in the process of building in-store shops.
For spring 2001, looks will also include plenty of cotton and jersey.
“The women’s line is doing exceptionally well,” Kani said. “The reaction from the market has been great. KK2 has taken on a whole identity of its own. People are starting to look at the brand as a viable force in the women’s market, and they are starting to realize we are more than just men’s. We are also finding that we have broad appeal with young girls as well as with older women.”
In regards to the styling for the line, Kani said, “Everything is sexy and hot.”
“Everything is fitted, and I try to use better fabrics for my women’s line than for my men’s,” he said. “Women are definitely more interested in fabric than men are.”
Kani said that the women’s line has the potential to reach sales of approximately half the men’s volume within the next two to three years, although he declined to give specific numbers. Looking ahead, Kani plans to build the brand by adding deals for women’s shoes, fragrance and loungewear in 2001.
KK2, now in its second year, will be featured in a a major print advertising campaign that will break this fall in major consumer magazines include Elle and Jane. Kani is also in the process of shooting a television commercial in Jamaica for both its men’s and women’s lines which will hit the tube in early July.
BABY PHAT DEBUTS: After years in development, Baby Phat, the women’s division of hot urban brand Phat Farm, has officially launched and is just starting to take off at retail. The brand is primarily being sold at specialty stores stores such as Dr. Jay’s and Jimmy Jazz, and department store giant Dayton Hudson has added the line to its product mix, according to Georgia Ganjeh, director of marketing for Baby Phat.
“The women’s line is slightly more upscale than the men’s line and conveys a sexier look,” Ganjeh said when asked to describe the new venture. “It is not as sports-inspired as the men’s line.”
Targeting women aged 18 to 35, the premiere line includes tank tops, denim sets, slip dresses and lingerie. T-shirts range in price from $25 to $40 at retail, pants are $55 to $80, dresses range from $65 to $80 and skirts are $45 and $70.
“We are really positioning the line as a lifestyle brand,” Ganjeh said. “We are trying to move away from our roots as an urban brand.”
Baby Phat, which is produced under license by Aris Industries, is in the process of formulating its ad campaign, which will break this fall in major magazines, according to Ganjeh. The brand will also host movie screenings, album release parties and other special marketing events in conjunction with the other holdings of Russell Simmons, Phat Farm’s founder.
In addition, Baby Phat plans to add new categories such as accessories and footwear to be produced under license, Ganjeh said.
FUBU REVAMPS: Now that it has achieved brand recognition far beyond its roots as an urban brand, Fubu is focusing on shoring up its women’s apparel line.
The company will completely revamp its women’s line later this year, according to Leslie Short, Fubu’s president of marketing and advertising.
“We are looking to make the line edgier and add more flair and color,” Short said. “Basically we listened to what our customers wanted and we realized we needed to take women’s to another level of fashion. We had a lot of track suits and casual items, and we wanted to make it edgier.”
She said Fubu will scale down its number of stockkeeping units and add new fabrics as part of the revamp.
Fubu, which started in 1992 as a hip-hop line that made hats for young urban men, launched women’s apparel in August 1998. Its women’s offerings are now carried in about 2,000 doors, according to Short.
Short said it is uncertain at this time how much the price points will change following the revamp. Currently, the women’s line retails for between $25 and $160.
Fubu has also scaled back on its advertising, but will likely initiate a marketing campaign for the retooled line, Short said.
MECCA MOVES: Mecca was one the pioneers in urban men’s wear to make the leap to women’s apparel, and its line continues to gain steam. Mecca’s women’s apparel, now in its fourth year, is moving to more sexy looks for fall, including more fitted denim suits as well as fitted skirts and dresses, according to Kimya Wharfield, sales manager for Mecca USA. Other styles on tap include wax-inspired looks, reverse denim and colored denim.
Distribution continues to be somewhat similar to the men’s line, which is primarily sold in specialty stores, but the company is looking to broaden its reach.
“We are really going after department stores,” Wharfield said. “The advertising is getting broader, and overall we are targeting a wider range.”
The women’s offerings range in retail price from about $24 to $100.
ECKO ADS: Ecko Unlimited has just kicked off its first advertising campaign for a new women’s apparel line, called Eckored. The line, which officially launched at retail this spring, is produced under license by Ecko’s manufacturing partner, Miami-based Trends Corp.
With retail prices between $30 and $90, Eckored is currently in about 400 doors, including The Buckle, Mr. Rags, Ron Herman-Fred Segal and Nordstrom. Looks include an assortment of knits, T-shirts, wovens, denim, twill and fleece materials.
The collection is expected to generate $15 million in business this year, according a company spokeswoman.
Ads for Eckored will run in YM, Jane, Hone, Vibe and The Source.
MALONE MOVES UP: Maurice Malone is making its own big moves into women’s apparel. The company last year started offering women’s sportswear. Now, it has launched a women’s collection business, geared to older, more upscale customers, according to Robyn Hamaguchu, head women’s wear designer.
The sportswear line currently is sold at specialty stores and athletic stores and is just beginning to move into the department store arena. Retail prices for the women’s sportswear line range from about $25 to $80.
The new collection line, meanwhile, is “flirty, edgy and shows a lot of skin,” Hamaguchu said. Materials include “plenty of textures” such as stretchy wool, leather and pony fabrics. Retail prices will range from $120 to $2,100 for more expensive items. Distribution is primarily geared to specialty and high-end boutiques, the company said.